The book was first published in Italian in 1956 and has since been translated into 10 languages and is available worldwide. It is based on the over 15,000 handwritten pages produced by Maria Valtorta between 1943 and 1947. During these years she reported visions of Jesus and Mary and claimed personal conversations with and dictations from Jesus. Her notebooks (published separately) include close to 700 detailed episodes in the life of Jesus, as an extension of the gospels.
Valtorta's handwritten episodes (which had no chronological order) were typed into separate pages by her priest and reassembled as a book. The first copy of the book was presented to Pope Pius XII, and the three Servite priests who attended the 1948 papal audience stated that he gave his verbal approval to "publish this work as is; he who reads will understand." However, the Holy Office forbade publication and, when in spite of that prohibition publication followed, placed the book on the Index of Forbidden Books. L'Osservatore Romano called it, "A Badly Fictionalized Life of Jesus".
In 1992, at the request of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi asked the publisher to ensure that "in any future reprint of the volumes, each should, right from its first page, clearly state that the 'visions' and 'dictations' referred to in it cannot be held to be of supernatural origin but must be considered simply as literary forms used by the author to narrate in her own way the life of Jesus". The publisher maintained that this was an implicit declaration that the work was free of doctrinal or moral error.
Maria Valtorta was bedridden in Viareggio, Italy, for most of her life due to complications from being struck in the back at random while walking on a street. Valtorta was a member of the Third Order Servites of Mary, affiliated to the order to which her spiritual director, Fr. Romuald Migliorini, O.S.M. belonged.
On the morning of Good Friday 1943 she reported having a vision in which Jesus appeared and spoke to her. While Valtorta did not begin writing The Poem of the Man-God until 1944, pre-Poem writings included various topics such as Mariology, Darwinism, and suffering. She reported having many more visions and conversations with Jesus and the Virgin Mary and said that Jesus had asked her to record her visions in writing. She continued to write her visions in her notebooks until 1947.